MDI Biological Laboratory

Better Imaging Makes for Better Understanding

  • May 10, 2021

Frédéric Bonnet manages MDI Biological Laboratory’s Light Microscopy Facility (LMF), a service available to all Maine IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) PIs. During his Ph.D. studies in his native France, Bonnet developed an unshakable fascination with the technology to image his work on chicken spinal cord neural cells.

After completing his doctorate, Bonnet continued honing his live image microscopy skills at the Biotechnology Center (BIOTECH) at Technische Universität Dresden in Germany before joining MDIBL in mid-2019.

In the 2 years since, Bonnet has driven the improvement and growth of the LMF, the focus always being getting the faculty what they need to do their work more easily. “I felt some reorganization would help make the LMF more efficient, effective and accessible,” he says. “Now we have a better scheduling and communication system, a better physical environment in which to work, the technology has been optimized for multiple users and I manage most of the administration.”

“Innervation of a regenerating nerve into an axolotl limb” Credit: Marko Pende, image taken with Zeiss axioZoom V16

The largest and most valuable addition to the LMF is without a doubt the 2020 purchase of a new Zeiss LSN980 two-photon confocal microscope which gives resolution down to the sub-cellular level and allows for spectral mixing. Funded by INBRE grants, all INBRE PIs have access to it as collaborators.

While the addition of such a valuable piece of technology would usually see a flurry of excited activity, the global pandemic sent Bonnet back into planning mode – this time to work out how to develop the remote capacity of the LMF. The idea: a sample is sent to Bonnet, and he images it while connected to the research scientist over a video interface like Zoom. Currently trialing this new system with a few close collaborators, Bonnet wants researchers to eventually see him as a natural extension of their work, even if they’re not doing the imaging themselves.

As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of all invention, but this system could have a far longer reach than the end of the COVID-19 pandemic; it breaks down geographic obstacles and offers a more cost-effective option than researchers needing to fund their own microscope. There is also potential here to add a vital education component – training and using students to conduct the imaging, building their workforce skills for future career moves. Ultimately, Bonnet hopes to offer remote services to not only INBRE collaborators to a wider audience across the U.S.

Bonnet’s plans don’t stop at building a multi-faceted remote LMF service, he also has visions of a state-wide imaging network to expand and strengthen Maine’s capacity in the field. He kicked of a series of seminars in January, aimed at bringing microscopy experts and researchers closer together, building awareness and knowledge of microscopy technology, and gaining insight to what technology the sector needs to develop to support researchers in the future.